‘Giving up wasn’t an option’ says wife and mother who battled mouth cancer

Sarah Davies (46) was set to celebrate her 40th birthday when her life took an unexpected turn that would change her life forever.

The wife and mother-of-one from Coventry began to feel some pain in the left side of her gum, just below one of her back teeth.  She thought it was just a mouth ulcer, but something was odd about it.

“At first, I didn’t think much of it and carried on with my everyday life,” Sarah says.

“It didn’t feel like a normal mouth ulcer though, sometimes it would send a feeling like an electric shock through the left side of my face.”

One month later, when the pain and inflammation did not go away, Sarah booked an appointment with her dentist.

The dentist treated the tooth above the inflammation with a filling.  When the problem continued, Sarah visited another dentist who suspected it was sinusitis.

It would be another nine months, after several dental visits and a last-ditch trip to A&E, that Sarah was finally given the diagnosis of mouth cancer.

Sarah says: “The doctor told me that they had results from my biopsy back and they had found malignant cells.  From what they could tell, the tumour was 20mm long and was squished up against the gum.”

Despite several knock-backs, Sarah’s persistence meant that she was able to catch her cancer in the early stages.

This gave Sarah the very best chance of beating the disease.

Sarah received both radiotherapy and chemotherapy and was given the all clear five years ago.

Despite surviving mouth cancer, Sarah continues to live with the after effects that impact her life to this day.

Sarah adds: “Following my treatment, I developed trismus, also called lockjaw, which has impacted my life dramatically.  I am only able to open my jaw a matter of millimetres so eating with a knife and fork is tricky and it takes me a long time to eat my meals.

“When going out with friends and family I usually order kids meals so that people aren’t waiting around for too long and if I want a drink, I have to do it through a straw.”

As is common with many mouth cancer survivors, Sarah’s taste buds and salivary glands were also affected, taking some of the joy out of eating and making swallowing more difficult.

Despite the setbacks Sarah has always kept a positive attitude.  She admits to still having her down days when she feels frustrated or depressed but her friends, family as well as support from Macmillan nurses keep her going.

Sarah adds: “Some friends have commented that I’m amazing for having the attitude that I have but I don’t think of myself that way.  When you’re dealt something, you’ve got to face it.  I’ve got an incredible family and friends who’ve supported me through it all.

“The way I look at it is that you’ve got two choices; do what has to be done or give up. Giving up isn’t an option.”

Sarah is sharing her journey to raise awareness during November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month.

The charity campaign, run by the Oral Health Foundation, hopes to encourage more people to be mouthaware by being able to recognise the early signs and symptoms associated with mouth cancer.

Mouth cancer can appear as a long-lasting mouth ulcer that does not go away for three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth, or any lumps and swellings in the head or neck.  

During Mouth Cancer Action Month, the Oral Health Foundation and Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, have come together to raise awareness of the disease so that more people can beat it like Sarah.

Sarah admits that her knowledge of mouth cancer was poor before her diagnosis and hopes to inspire more people to learn about the disease, so they can spot it early.

Sarah says: “I didn’t really know about mouth cancer until I had it.  Then I started to look into it and realised just how many people it does impact. I will do anything to help make more people aware because the sooner mouth cancer is treated, the better your chances.

“If you think something isn’t right in your mouth then go and get it checked out.  It probably is nothing to worry about but it’s important you don’t ignore it.  I would also say that if you aren’t satisfied with the diagnosis you receive then go get a second opinion from another dentist or doctor.”

Catherine Rutland, Clinical Director at Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, agrees and also notes how catching mouth cancer early can greatly increase your chances of survival and a better quality of life.

Dr Rutland says: “If mouth cancer is spotted early, the chances of a complete cure are good.  Around 2,702 people in the United Kingdom lose their life to mouth cancer every year.  That’s seven people every day. It is widely recognised that many of these deaths could be prevented by early diagnosis. Early detection is by far the most important factor, as the stage at which mouth cancer is diagnosed has the most significant effect on overall survival as mouth (and throat) cancer can grow very quickly.

“Encouraging patients to attend regular dental examinations, carry out self-checks, and become familiar with the normal state of their mouth (and head and neck) is very important. To help raise patient awareness of the signs and symptoms of mouth cancer, the Oral Health Foundation have developed a range of excellent patient education resources available on their website.”

Most mouth cancer appear on the tongue or tonsils, but it can also occur on the lips, gums, roof and floor of the mouth.

Last year, new mouth cancer cases in the UK reached a record high of 8,722 – an increase of 97% compared to 20 years ago.

The key to beating mouth cancer is spotting it early.  If you notice any of the symptoms associated with mouth cancer, visit a dentist or doctor immediately.

For more information about mouth cancer, including how to do a self-check for the disease, visit www.mouthcancer.org.

New data reveals most people do not know the symptoms associated with mouth cancer despite record number of cases

Cases of mouth cancer in the United Kingdom have nearly doubled in the last 20 years, yet an alarming number are unable to identify the early warning signs and symptoms. Last year, more than 8,700 British adults were given the news that they had mouth cancer.  The disease is diagnosed on one person nearly every hour.

New research by the Oral Health Foundation as part of November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month reveals that seven-in-ten (71%) do not know the symptoms of mouth cancer.

Further findings show more than four-in-five (83%) do not feel confident in what they are looking for when it comes to doing a mouth cancer check at home while around two-in-three (62%) confess to never checking themselves for signs of the disease.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, believes with the number of cases on the rise, it is important for everybody to know how to spot the early signs of mouth cancer and know how to perform a simple self-check.

Dr Carter says: “In the UK, and around the world, the number of people affected by mouth cancer continues to grow at an astonishing rate.  Anybody is at risk of mouth cancer, and with limited  access to dentistry at the moment, it is more important than ever for people to be vigilant. That’s why it is so important to know how and where mouth cancer can strike.

“Look for mouth ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth or head and neck.

“Most mouth cancers appear on the tongue – around a third of all cases – but it can also strike on the tonsils, gums and lips.  It can also be found on the roof or floor of the mouth, as well as the throat.”

The new research shows that around one-in-two (52%) are aware that long lasting mouth ulcers could be a sign of mouth cancer while fewer know that red patches (41%) and white patches (48%) could be a symptom. Similarly, less than half (47%) identify lumps or swellings in the mouth, head or neck as a potential sign of mouth cancer, and even less (23%) know that persistent hoarseness might be a link.

The research has been published to coincide 20 years of Mouth Cancer Action Month.

The last two decades have painted a bleak picture for mouth cancer numbers in the UK.  New annual cases have soared by 97% since the year 2000, while those losing their life to the disease have increased by 48% in the last decade.  

For the last 20 years, the Oral Health Foundation has received support for the campaign from Denplan, part of Simplyhealth.  The partnerships between the two mouth cancer campaigners bids to turn the tide against the disease and create a more mouthaware population.

Catherine Rutland, Head Dental Officer of Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, highlights that conducting a potentially life-saving mouth cancer check is easy and can take as little as 45 seconds.

Dr Rutland says: “By spotting mouth cancer early, patients have a much better chance of beating it. With early diagnosis, the chances of surviving mouth cancer are nine out of ten and that’s why knowing what to look out for is so important. 

“A simple self-examination should involve checking your cheeks, gums, lips, tongues and tonsils. Also check the floor and roof of the mouth, as well as your head and neck. You should be looking for mouth ulcers that don’t heal within three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth or unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth, head and neck.

“Mouth Cancer Action Month is the perfect opportunity to become mouthaware by learning the risks and early signs of mouth cancer. It is also important that we not only recognise, but act on unusual changes in the mouth.  If you notice anything out of the ordinary, get checked out by your dentist or doctor.”

For more information about mouth cancer, including how to do a self-check for the disease, visit www.mouthcancer.org.

Denplan partners with Wright-Cottrell to supply essential PPE

Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, has announced today that they are partnering with Wright-Cottrell, one of the UK’s leading dental distributors, to supply the previously announced £2 million worth of free Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for its Denplan members. All PPE will have full certification and carry the CE mark/BSO mark to reassure members that the equipment received is of the highest quality and fit for purpose.

This announcement comes at a critical time for dental practices across the UK who are starting to receive guidance on when they can reopen their practices. Practices in England learnt on Thursday 28 May that NHS England and the Chief Dental Officer for England have now confirmed any practice that is appropriately prepared can provide patient care from 8 June.

Following Denplan’s announcement on Friday 22 May that they are making a significant investment in PPE, the company will be furthering their close working relationship with Wright-Cottrell in helping dental teams get back to work safely.

Denplan’s investment in PPE is one of a number of key measures that Denplan has made since lockdown to help their members with financial support, health and wellbeing tools, business and clinical advice, and CPD initiatives. It is also a demonstration of Simplyhealth’s long-term investment in the future success of the healthcare profession.

Catherine Rutland, Clinical Director at Denplan, said: “It is great news that practices in the UK have now learnt that they can start preparing to reopen. The need for enhanced PPE will be one of a range of new requirements for clinical practice to be able to reopen safely, at least in the short term. As a company, it is fantastic to be able to continue our support in helping Denplan practice teams get safely and efficiently back to caring for their patients and in particular, provide the essential PPE that they need to do this.”

Denplan are working closely with Wright-Cottrell to establish an efficient ordering process so that their members can access the essential PPE that they will need when clinical dentistry resumes.

Nigal Rutter, National Key Account Manager, at Wright-Cottrell, added: “We have a long-standing relationship with Denplan and many of their member dentists, so we were delighted when Denplan confirmed that we were their chosen supplier to provide PPE for their member practices. Over the years we have supported a range of events for Denplan’s clinical training programme and have sponsored all of Denplan’s charity events for the last two years. We look forward to this next stage in our partnership.”

Denplan are continuing their support for members to help them get back to work confidently by running a three day ‘Back to Work’ virtual conference from Monday 1st to Wednesday 3rd June. The three day event, designed in partnership with Dental Update, offers 12 hours of free CPD, and features 17 lectures on subjects entirely devoted to practising dentistry safely and effectively in the Covid-19 era.

This conference will directly follow the April and May series of Denplan/Dental Update webinars, and the combined total registrations for both lecture programmes is hoped to exceed 100,000 dental professionals.

For more details on the Back to Work conference and how to register visit https://conference.dental-update.co.uk/

Denplan makes significant investment in PPE

Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, has taken a significant step today to show its commitment to the long-term success of the dental profession and their ongoing support for member dentists in the UK, and the care of their patients. The company has announced that it is investing £2 million to provide essential, fully-certified, personal protective equipment (PPE) to help its Denplan member dentists get safely back to work and protect and care for their patients.

As the UK’s leading dental payment plan specialist, Denplan has over 2 million customers with around 6,700 member dentists, as well as serving over 2,700 companies with Denplan employee benefit schemes. However, all dental practices have been closed for normal routine dental care since the Coronavirus lockdown started on 23rd March, which has created a significant impact on practices, their patients, and access to oral healthcare across the UK.

Although a definitive date is currently unknown, there is increasing speculation that practices will reopen in the near future now that the Covid-19 national lockdown restrictions are being eased in some sectors. Denplan has made the decision to invest in PPE now, as part of a number of support measures put in place since lockdown to help their Denplan dental practices survive in these difficult times, make sure they can reopen safely, and also to ensure that their patients are confident to start attending appointments again.

News this week from the BDA has emphasised the importance of getting dentists back to work and how private dentists are particularly exposed financially, and also the concern that access to healthcare is going to get even worse for patients with a widening oral health gap.

Romana Abdin, Chief Executive at Simplyhealth, said: “Coronavirus has affected all of us deeply, both at work and in our personal lives. As a company, we are incredibly passionate about our Purpose which is to provide access to affordable healthcare for the many which we have been delivering for 148 years. This investment, alongside the range of support measures we have provided since lockdown, demonstrates our Purpose in action, our continued support for our Denplan members, our commitment to the long-term success of the dental industry, and the provision of essential dental healthcare to our members’ patients.”

Denplan is currently in final stage discussions with dental suppliers in the UK to create a robust operational process to provide essential PPE equipment to their member practices. Qualifying Denplan member practices will be allocated a fund, based on their Denplan patient numbers, which they can use to order vital PPE equipment directly from the chosen supplier. This fund will allow Denplan practices to select from a range of PPE items to help ensure the safety of their patients and of Denplan dental teams.

Catherine Rutland, Clinical Director at Denplan, said: “This has been such a difficult time for the whole dental profession. Our aim is to support our members in returning to practice by providing the standard of guidance that they expect from us, to provide safe practice and the PPE to enact that. We have also been working closely with our members to provide clinical and business guidance to help them return to work once all official government guidelines can be adhered to safely. We have always strived to create a partnership with our members’ and have worked hard to ensure that we provide added value services from our clinical team and our dedicated business consultants to contribute to a successful dental practice for the long term.”

Denplan has introduced a number of other new measures to help support their Denplan dentists during the Coronavirus lockdown. These have focused on three key areas: to support practice sustainability and provide financial support through extended loans; secondly, supporting the health and wellbeing of dentists via free access to Simplyhealth’s 24-7 virtual GP and Employee Assistance Programme for practices; and finally, through ongoing CPD and professional development. This has included hosting a wide range of online lectures with expert guest speakers, and creating online versions of Denplan’s Tailor Made Training bespoke in-practice training programmes.

Denplan Academy supports dental practices with online training and CPD

Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, has been adapting and changing to the needs of customers, colleagues, dentists and practices during this unprecedented time, through online training via the Denplan Academy. With dental practices around the country closing their doors overnight due to Covid-19, the Denplan Academy has adapted from face-to-face training to online sessions for dentists and practice staff.

From re-writing and re-formatting training materials, to re-branding PowerPoints for the most popular 15 courses, the Denplan Academy team is now confidently delivering sessions independently online, continuing to provide personalised learning for dental colleagues.

With online functionality checked and the team confident they could deliver this new way of learning, 20 online sessions have now been booked in and 180 practice team members have now attended one of the sessions. Popular courses include:

  • Caring for your patients with dementia: How can we assist patients, as well as people in your local community to live well with dementia.
  • Complaints handling: Explores methods and techniques to manage patient complaints and review procedures in line with GDC standards.
  • ECPD and reflective learning: Requirements of the GDC’s Enhanced Continuing Professional Development and how the team can approach the guidelines of Plan, Do, Reflect, Record.
  • Preparing for your CQC inspection: Examines the process of a CQC inspection and what elements are included in the five fundamental standards of care.

Jo Banks, Client Training Manager at Denplan added: “We have all had to adapt to these unfamiliar times and different ways of working. The Denplan Academy team has shown such amazing spirit whilst committing to delivering this new type of training. The team has adapted our course materials and approach, now offering live, personalised, online training – something no other provider in the marketplace is doing.

“It has been an excellent opportunity for us to retain and build relationships with dental practices at this time. This online training offers staff members a chance to re-engage with their teams and be productive at this difficult time. If dental staff have been furloughed, they are also encouraged to attend the training on a voluntary basis. Initial feedback from our member dentists has been excellent. We are excited to continue and develop our online training to meet the needs of our member dentists and practice staff.”

Denplan has also been working with Dental Update and Louis Mackenzie, Head Dental Officer at Denplan. With over 70,000 registrations to date, this series of clinical webinars provides practices and teams to continue to be supported and access CPD.

For more information about the Denplan Academy online training, please visit https://events.simplyhealth.co.uk/TMT